Community Action launches campaign on youth homelessness

  • PEREIRA

Staff Writer
Published: 12/27/2021 12:34:29 PM
Modified: 12/27/2021 12:34:02 PM

GREENFIELD — Following a monthlong youth homelessness awareness campaign in November, Community Action Pioneer Valley’s Three County Continuum of Care is continuing to raise awareness with “Hiding in Plain Sight,” a campaign designed in partnership with the state Commission on Unaccompanied and Homeless Youth.

The campaign aims to encourage youth and young adults without a safe or stable place to stay to connect with local resources, and to raise awareness and support for programs that work to prevent and end youth homelessness, according to a Community Action press release.

“I think it’s important to recognize that youth homelessness looks very different from adults in the system,” said Three County Continuum of Care Program Director Keleigh Pereira. “Young people are often couch surfing; young people are often not willing to talk about the fact they’re experiencing homelessness … or don’t want to identify that they don’t have their family’s support, or are embarrassed to talk about it.”

Pereira said it’s important for young people to be aware of the services and resources available to them. Locally, that could include  nonprofits such as DIAL/SELF Youth & Community Services, Gandara Center and the Mental Health Association.

“In October 2020, we increased our housing support for youth and young adults by 38 additional beds, including transitional and permanent,” Pereira said.

Many of the support services for people experiencing homelessness aren’t exactly meant for the younger demographic, she noted.

“Our shelters are not always the safest place for a young person to be,” Pereira said. “We need to be thinking about how to develop resources that really meet the needs of young adults, and listen to the perspective of young adults in determining that.”

According to the release, there are about 3,800 unaccompanied youth and young adults identified in Massachusetts each year who are experiencing homelessness.

“During the pandemic, we have seen an increase in youth and young adults experiencing homelessness and in need of services in Berkshire, Franklin and Hampshire counties,” Pereira said.

Members of the Three County Continuum of Care will be among the homelessness relief advocates demonstrating at the Farren Care Center in Montague on Christmas Eve, Pereira noted.

The rally’s organizer, Cate Woolner, previously expressed disappointment in parent company Trinity Health of New England’s lack of consideration for using the building to house homeless people during the winter. The Montague City Road facility has been closed since early this year, with the company having essentially merged with a long-term care facility in Holyoke.

“The homelessness issue in this community … is really a concern right now,” Pereira said. “We are all working very hard to try to think outside the box to find resources, to increase those resources. I feel like we’ve had a lot of really amazing outreach from our legislative delegation with interest in supporting us and addressing this really widespread concern.”

She said homelessness was an issue before COVID-19, but since the pandemic, Three County Continuum of Care is seeing “something very different.”

“There were times pre-COVID where we would see lulls in the amount of people needing shelter,” Pereira said. “And this year, we really haven’t seen that and the resources are really overwhelmed with that concern.”

The Three County Continuum of Care is encouraging youth and young adults who may be experiencing homelessness or housing instability to visit its website (threecountycoc.communityaction.us) and call the youth service provider offering emergency housing options and supports in their area.

“The time between the moment a young person finds themselves without a safe or stable place to stay and the moment they reach out for help can be an extremely scary and vulnerable time,” said Community Action’s Communications Director Jessye Deane. “We want young adults to know there are options other than a couch, a park bench or the back seat of a car, and there are supports available to get them on a path toward stability.”

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.


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